After several months with V, as our relationship grew closer, I finally decided to leave the community in the spring of 1997. After all of the years of intensity with MD, the manner in which my time in his course came to a conclusion almost seemed anticlimactic. One afternoon MD came to visit me on a jobsite in Tiburon. S and J were with him and the four of us sat together on the curb in front of the home where I was working. Our visit together was quick, only about ten minutes, and I simply said that I wanted to leave the community and go out on my own. MD explained some of the cons of leaving in the midst of the course, having not completed it, but in the end we all agreed, I returned to my job and they left. That was it.
V and I moved to Santa Rosa and rented a place together, coincidentally from a former graduate student who had been a teacher’s assistant for my former good friend and mentor Professor Reynolds, the one who I had helped years earlier in his mission to distribute books for the blind throughout the world. My new landlord had just as many wonderful and quixotic stories of his former teacher as I did, and we enjoyed sharing these with each other.
My connection to MD wasn’t completely severed when I left the community. We still maintained a friendship and he stopped by my jobsites from time to time to check in and see how I was doing. These were very welcome visits because I loved him and enjoyed his company a great deal. However by the end of the year, in December, his visits to my jobsites ended because he turned himself in to the courts, satisfying a warrant that had been out for his arrest, stemming from the charges that K had brought several years earlier after she left his training.
I continued to make payments on the cars after I left, even though I never saw them again and certainly never drove them. The plan had been that the payments would be taken over by the others who remained after I left, but no payment was ever made by them. It was okay though, each of us did what we could and what we were good at, and I was good at making money and paying bills. So I made payments on their cars for a year or two until I finally gave up and had them repossessed. I suppose I could have taken them back myself and sold them but they were community property in truth, even if they were my property by law. An argument could be made that it was within my rights to sell them, since I was making the payments on them, but they needed the vehicles and I didn’t, since I had subsequently purchased my own truck, and I had agreed to let them keep them when I left. It frustrated me a little that they didn’t keep up their end of the agreement but I was determined to keep up my end, to the best of my ability, regardless of what they did.
I also reasoned that I didn’t really have anything in this world that wasn’t a gift to me anyway. I certainly didn’t make myself, or give myself any of the gifts or abilities that I happened to enjoy and make use of, so in the end whatever ‘right’ I had was insignificant compared to any debt I might actually owe for all the amazing things God had given me in this life.
In addition to the great debt I owed God for my life, I also owed my mom about fifteen grand for a loan she had given to us when we opened the auto shop in Fort Bragg. The plan had been to repay her but that hadn’t really materialized, so I assured her that I would pay her back for that gracious and generous loan, and I began to make monthly payments to her. It makes me smile now and seems so funny in a way, the financial burdens that I carried with me out of the community at that time. The reason is because while they were genuinely burdensome to me, I had also carried away such a treasury of peace and freedom within me, that these material burdens seemed somewhat trivial and easy by comparison.
In our final year together MD had directed all of us to visit local churches on several occasions. Each of us would pick a church and attend alone, not as a group. One Sunday I chose to attend Saint Seraphim of Sarov Church in Santa Rosa. This was my first experience of an Orthodox liturgy and my first time inside an Orthodox church. The beauty of the iconography, the music, the vestments and the people was thrilling, and the exotic nature of the incense and the candles and the practices throughout the liturgy made me giddy. I loved it even though it seemed very strange to me. After the service, the priest introduced himself to me and spent quite a long time answering my questions and sharing his faith with me. I was very impressed that he would take so much time for me and give me his undivided attention. I was also impressed by his humility and patience in the face of my critical judgments against the use of icons. Having come from a protestant background I suppose my sentiment was almost obligatory, but it was also prejudicial. I understood icons only as one who doesn’t understand icons; and unfortunately, in my pride of course, I felt it my duty to share my superior, though spurious knowledge with him, because in reality I knew nothing other than my own prejudice. Now many years later we are friends and I am grateful that he doesn’t remember this first exchange of ideas and my childish hubris so arrogantly displayed.
In retrospect I am not sure why I didn’t go back to this church and begin attending there after I left the community, since I was eager to find a good church and learn what it means to be a true Christian. In fact, at the time it didn’t even cross my mind to go to that church, I think because I was looking for something a little more familiar and comfortable. It seemed logical to return to the Methodist church that I had grown up attending, but I felt that I hadn’t received a very good theological education there the first time around, and I didn’t want to chance that same outcome again this time. I knew of a Presbyterian church in town that my former high school music director attended and the prospect of singing for him again excited me and filled me with joy so I went there.
It turned out, though he was still a member, he had retired as their music director several years earlier. The new director was also very good and he had a small a cappella ensemble that I auditioned for and joined. Finally, I was making music again! The joy of rehearsal; and the satisfaction of discipline and attention to detail demanded by a director who was a perfectionist! It was wonderful. We practiced intonation, dynamics, staggered breathing, enunciation, clarity of tone and everything else necessary to blend our voices into one. It was hard work and a lot of fun and we became a family.
I also began to read the Bible for the first time. I had read verses here and there before, even a few books of the Old and New Testaments, and I was familiar with the basics of the faith from my childhood and youth, but I didn’t really know the story from beginning to end. It was a profound beginning for me. I couldn’t believe how much I didn’t know, and how much I hadn’t been taught when I was younger. After I finished reading it, I started reading it over again, and then one more time. After reading the Bible through about three times, I bought it on audio tape and listened to it a couple more times while driving to and from work throughout the day. This took me several years, but it was quite an education, and well worth my time. I fell in love with the Bible and all that it was teaching me about God, man, Jesus Christ, morality and eternity. My understanding was limited but I was making a start and it felt very good.
(to be continued)